An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
It is probable that no more was meant by those, who denied innate ideas, than that all
ideas were copies of our impressions; though it must be confessed, that the terms, which
they employed, were not chosen with such caution, nor so exactly defined, as to prevent
all mistakes about their doctrine. For what is meant by innate? If innate be equivalent to
natural, then all the perceptions and ideas of the mind must be allowed to be innate or
natural, in whatever sense we take the latter word, whether in opposition to what is
uncommon, artificial, or miraculous. If by innate be meant, contemporary to our birth, the
dispute seems to be frivolous; nor is it worth while to enquire at what time thinking
begins, whether before, at, or after our birth. Again, the word idea, seems to be
commonly taken in a very loose sense, by LOCKE and others; as standing for any of our
perceptions, our sensations and passions, as well as thoughts. Now in this sense, I should
desire to know, what can be meant by asserting, that self-love, or resentment of injuries,
or the passion between the sexes is not innate?
But admitting these terms, impressions and ideas, in the sense above explained, and
understanding by innate, what is original or copied from no precedent perception, then
may we assert that all our impressions are innate, and our ideas not innate.
To be ingenuous, I must own it to be my opinion, that LOCKE was betrayed into this
question by the schoolmen, who, making use of undefined terms, draw out their disputes
to a tedious length, without ever touching the point in question. A like ambiguity and
circumlocution seem to run through that philosopher's reasonings on this as well as most
Cause and effect.